Redefining High School Social Structure: Overthrowing the Plastics This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

April 27, 2012
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Mean Girls can safely be considered one of the most popular teen movies of all time. It’s funny, entertaining, relatable, and pokes fun at the sensitive issue of social rank within our high schools. What’s not funny is just how apparent this problem has become.

In the film, Mean Girls, the popular girls are defined by their looks, clothing, wealth and attitude. They are hated but respected (basically worshipped) by their classmates despite the horrible way they treat other people. This reverence creates the illusion of a higher power or status; it is assumed that these girls are above and beyond the standard. But why?

First of all, they’re pretty. Now before you reply with an “okay, but…” let me reason with you. As cynical as it sounds, we live in a world where appearance is everything. Though unfortunate, the good-looking are often the most likely to succeed. Women who are beautiful, thin and well dressed make a more memorable first impression than the reverse.

Wealth also makes an impact. Everyone wishes to be wealthy; those who show it off are envied. Girls with expensive clothing, accessories, haircuts and other luxuries are common subjects of jealousy. This flashiness tends to catch the eye of many admirers; however, flashiness is inclined to result in superficiality and ostentation.

The most distinctive trait shared by the main characters in Mean Girls is their confidence. Their incredible self-assurance causes other characters to doubt themselves. Once the less popular feel badly about themselves, they tend to revere the mean girls further. This only encourages the popular girls to continue to step on others to succeed. Because nobody reprimands them for their actions, they assume their behavior is perfectly acceptable. Thus begins a vicious cycle in which the popular girls feed off their victims’ helplessness to feel further empowered.

The name given to the popular clique in Mean Girls even implies the shallowness and triviality of their power. “The Plastics?” Plastic is cheap, flexible; it’s of low cost and little value. When expecting leadership, or strength, plastic isn’t the best option. Personally, I prefer something strong, more along the lines of wood, maybe even brick…

Yes, Mean Girls is just a movie. But the effect of the clique’s behavior can be applied to the way we behave in high school as well.

The way popularity is coveted and desired gives it a terrifying power. Therefore, the girls we label as popular are associated with power. By supporting the actions of these girls, we are trapping ourselves in a sort of high school social structure, in which the popular rules over the rest of their helpless schoolmates.

My biggest criticism is not towards the popular gang, but those who do nothing to stop their actions. Treating popular people the way we do, with respect and jealousy, only makes them more powerful. It also causes us to degrade ourselves. If we aren’t in the popular clique, we feel inferior, second-rate and insecure.

But this system can be changed. The only thing giving the popular their power is exactly the adjective we use to describe them. The word popular was never meant to define a group of self-centered, immature, disrespectful jerks. It wasn’t created to define any certain group, actually. To be popular really means to be well liked, friendly and agreeable; the sooner we apply this to our lives, the faster we can rid ourselves of this hierarchy of mean girls.

Think how your school would change if the popular girls were the kind ones; the girl who helped pick your books up, or a classmate who held a door open for you. Popularity should be judged based on friendships, or leadership. Popular students should be considered considerate, respectful and effortless. A true popular person doesn’t have to try hard to be liked. Simplicity is so much more respectable than appearance, wealth and cockiness. True leaders should be esteemed and humble. Examples should be set by good leaders, people we can trust and admire for their personality, not their appearance.

There are girls I see everyday who just scream self-centered. They have always been admired and always expect to be. I object to this behavior. The belittling of others is something I personally cannot stand, and certainly will never admire. I’ve decided to apply this new definition of popular at my own school. Rather than feeling intimidated by the girls I once bowed down to, I have come to respect myself for my own confidence. If the idea was spread further, maybe the people who truly deserved popularity could gain it.

At the end of Mean Girls, an all-inclusive fight breaks up the Plastics. This fight marks the end of their reign, but not of their popularity. The girls move on to humble themselves by associating themselves with the common people. The school becomes a happy place, where friendship is attainable no matter what clique you belong to.

Maybe high school will never reach this happy ending, but I believe if we reevaluate who we label as “popular,” we can break the social confinement that our very own Plastics have placed upon us, and reinvent our own leaders according to what truly defines “popular.”





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SophieSchnitzel This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 22, 2015 at 8:53 pm
I don't notice any popular girls in my school or cliques at all really. I think that fiction is really getting high school wrong. But who knows. I live in Seattle, so it could just be a lot different in the Pacific Northwest.
 
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